Reviews

ASQ in San Francisco Chronicle

Alto saxophonist Aram Shelton doesn’t hail from Chicago, but he spent his formative years in the city of broad shoulders and hard-blowing horn players, honing an aesthetic steeped in the visceral hurly burly of free jazz.

Since moving to the Bay Area in 2005 to study at Mills College, he’s become an essential part of the region’s left-of-center improvisational scene while also maintaining his Chi-town ties. Shelton has launched several Bay Area-based bands, such as the raucous sextet Marches – which extrapolates on the music of Sun Ra, Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler – and These Are Our Hours, a quintet showcasing a bevy of highly promising young players. But he’s getting his first major West Coast exposure with a powerhouse quartet featuring Chicago compatriots Keefe Jackson on tenor sax, bassist Anton Hatwich and drummer Tim Daisy.

“It’s strange that I’m breaking out with this Chicago group,” Shelton says, “but this quartet is the one that’s closest to more traditional jazz music, with a lot of in-time swinging and playing melodies and structures.”

Following two Saturday afternoon sets at the Monterey Jazz Festival, the Aram Shelton Quartet concludes a high-profile California tour Saturday night at the Red Poppy Art House. Shelton also performs with guitarist Nathan Clevenger’s sextet Sunday at Oakland’s Freelove Music School and Sept. 30 at Legion of Honor with the Oakland Active Orchestra, a creatively charged 14-member collective that appears regularly at the Uptown Nightclub in Oakland.

With his thick, sinewy tone, Shelton, 36, often makes the alto sax sound like its larger sibling. On the quartet’s debut album “Everything for Somebody,” he and Jackson bob, weave and dance around Daisy’s mercurial rhythmic churn. No one is likely to mistake the grooves for dance music, but the quartet retains the ecstatic, call-to-assembly urgency found in its primary sources – Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy. “I listen to them all the time,” Shelton says. “Their music has this beauty and energy that comes out of the soloists playing really simple. Well, not simple as much as honest. That’s what really inspires me.”

Raised on a small ranch in southeast Florida, Shelton spent his teenage years immersed in the Western classical tradition. Just as he was finishing a music degree at the University of Florida he experienced an epiphany at a performance by Sam Rivers’ extraordinary multi-instrumental trio. Settling in Chicago in 1999, he quickly threw himself into the thick of the city’s roiling creative music scene, collaborating with leading players in a series of singular ensembles. He’s done much the same thing in the Bay Area.

“Aram is so prolific and such an original voice, he’s really a beacon for what’s possible out here,” says bassist Lisa Mezzacappa, who opens the Red Poppy show with ROVA saxophonist Steve Adams. “Besides the sheer energy and work he puts into making things happen, it’s been great that he’s kept his relationships with Chicago. We get to interact with those players and that cross pollination helps our scene.”

by Andy Gilbert

Original published by the San Francisco Chronicle

New You at Gapplegate

From out of Oakland, California comes the ensemble Arts & Sciences and their CD New You(Singlespeed Music SSM-0010). It’s eclectic and electric with keys (Michael Coleman) tenor sax and effects (Matt Nelson), alto sax and flute (Jacob Zimmerman) and drums (Jordan Glenn) comprising the ensemble.

This is composition-centered prog jazz. The press sheet cites Sun Ra, Tim Berne and the Curtains as influences, but one might also detect a sound that reminds a little of later Soft Machine as well as perhaps a little Zappa.

There are some nice odd-time-meter riffs, contrapuntal line weaving, freebop linings, a little of the heft of rock and overall a genuinely creative approach. It’s less directed toward solo than ensemble, but that works given the ambitious compositional content.

This is seriously good music that’s worth your time.

Original post at Gapplegate

Everything for Somebody at Jazz Wrap

What I’ve always loved about Aram Shelton is his investigative ethos. He continually challenges himself and his fellow band mates within each composition. This is ever-present on his newest quartet release, Everything For Somebody.

With his quartet, Shelton stays focused on a more traditional sound – a mixture of hard bop and avant garde that works perfectly. The ideas created by Ornette Coleman are here in Shelton’s playing but as you move further into the record you fly deeper into the band’s vortex.

“Anticipation” opens with beautiful exchanges by Jackson and Shelton. Their performance is really on fire and the addition of the always electrifying Daisy makes the piece a firecracker of an opener. It’s fun, challenging and very versatile.

“Everything To Somebody” begins with a slow melodic approach before the group spins into a nice boppish groove carried through by Hatwich and Daisy. Hatwich provides a nice bridge in the middle of the piece for Jackson and Shelton to gather new concepts and rejoin with vibrancy, carrying the tune back to a somber but celebratory conclusion.

I love the freedom Shelton gives the group on “Barely Talking.” The main melody and theme are established in the opening lines but from that point on, each musician crafts his own vision. Tim Daisy displays an improvising spirit that for me resembles Andrew Cyrille. Jackson and Shelton apply complimentary notes that flow with aggression and beauty. And there’s a great passage in the middle of the piece between Daisy and Hatwich that is simply exquisite…and could have gone on much longer.

While Aram Shelton is pretty much based out of San Francisco now, the distance does not stop this Chicago quartet from sounding as fresh and vibrant as ever. If you were to start your journey into Aram Shelton’s material Everything To Somebody is wonderful place to start. Another superb addition to my albums of the year. Highly Recommended.

By Stephan Moore. Originally posted at JazzWrap

Everything for Somebody at Shanley on Music

Aram Shelton’s latest presents another strong set of material from an alto saxophonist who should be getting more recognition for his prolific output and busy schedule. While his release earlier this year of duets with drummer Kjell Nordeson might have been more of a specialized interest, Shelton’s quartet presents a full picture of his inventive writing and spunky soloing.

The band includes tenor saxophonist Keefe Jackson – who compliments Shelton so well that it’s sometimes hard to tell who’s who when their ranges overlap (they’re panned towards different channels) – bassist Anton Hatwich and drummer Tim Daisy (who replaces original quartet member Marc Riordan). Shelton cites Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus as influences on the group but it’s more a case of taking inspiration from them rather than trying to copy those particular players. “Anticipation” presents the first such example, beginning with a Coleman-style folky waltz that shifts to a stretched-out rubato feeling for the middle eight, before shifting back to the first section. This structure recurs during parts of the solos too, which adds a good tension when the horns join together. Shelton also delivers a remarkable, frequently vocal solo.

“Joints and Tendons” leans closer to homage with a theme reminiscent of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. It features a very AACM approach of roughly five or six staccato notes followed by brief silence… then a sustained, often dissonant, harmony. Arty (no pun intended) and a little spare, it still offers intrigue for Daisy’s brief spastic solo and the fact that Jackson and Shelton on harmonize in crisp tones closer to West Coast cool cats than Chicago revolutionaries.

“Barely Talking” has a simple, catchy melody and a solo from Johnson that sounds free, especially in connection with Daisy, but maintains a focus and direction throughout. Hatwich also gets his moment in the spotlight too. “Deadfall” gives the leader his chance to go it alone for the first two-and-a-half minutes.

After last year’s impressive albums on Clean Feed with the groups Cylinder and Arrive, and the most recent Fast Citizens album on Delmark, Shelton is coming at it from all angles with a strong voice and engaging material. Everything for Somebody adds to that, and hopefully he’s starting to catch on so that the title won’t just refer to a limited set of listeners and appreciators.

By Mike Shanley

Original post at Shanley On Music

New You at Stef’s Free Jazz Blog

I met Michael Coleman (the leader of Arts and Science) in Brussels quite a few years ago. He was on the usual European tourist trip with a friend of his – maybe Jordan Glenn, the drummer on this album? Michael told me about another interesting project called Schumann’s Humans, a group playing the music of Schumann, but re-imagined. I remember checking out via MySpace the group and being highly impressed, but of course since then I’d lost track of Michael’s groups and career. Well, time has caught up and here we are in 2012 with a record from Michael Coleman under the title ‘Arts and Science – New You’, and it’s to my ears a corker! I should also add, for all those that read the recent Aram Shelton review, that this is another record out on the excellent Singlespeed Music label.

If you’re ready to be taken on a burning trip of musical ideas and styles, then this is the one you might indeed be well advised to check out. If you remember the free wheeling blowing and sheer eclecticism of Human Feel then you’ll already have a vague notion of what the music could be. Although not as ‘free’, it does however have a power and imagination that easily matches that genre breaking group. The groups makeup does (in a way) mirror some of Human Feel’s elements as it’s two sax front line, no bass, drums and in this case keyboard may suggest. Each of the musicians deserves a mention as everybody plays sublimely well, blowing hot and cold all over the music, prepared to take the risks needed to give the music an excitement and energy that keeps the listener pinned to their seat!

Both Jacob Zimmerman (alto sax, flute, percussion), Matt Nelson (Tenor sax, effects, percussion) are new names to me, and a revelation also. Both players seem to mold together to form a front line that instinctively thinks as one. Their solos sometimes scream out of the speakers and at others come together to form tight ensemble work. Jordan Glenn (drums) is certainly a key player in this complex music which at times sounds not unlike early King Crimson in it’s ensemble work. The modern melodies fly out at you never letting one guess which direction the music will take. ‘Seram’ (Tk 7) swings away at a fast tempo, whilst the gorgeous melody of ‘Shunting’ (Tk 8) has an almost sinister obstinate riff for the two saxes to blow around. Baby Boner (Tk 3) turns into a polyrhythmic piece, like a pigmy melody taken straight from the rain forests. ‘Scientology’ (Tk 9) makes use of gongs and bowed cymbals leading us to a beautiful and delicate melody with extra horns and a guitar. And the final brooding ‘Jazz/Shadow’ (Tk 10) with strangely distorted recorded horns and keyboard, roll like the sea with the two horns wailing above. Every track is a winner!

The myriad ideas of Michael Coleman really keep each track fresh, and although there is clearly a huge range of musical styles, somehow Michael manages to make the whole thing completely coherent. His keyboard playing (only keyboards) never dominates the ensemble, yet there are constant ideas flowing back and forth. His use of the sound palettes available is always well chosen ; mellotrons, percussive glockenspiels, tiny pianos, old wurlitzers, etc. However, what is clear is that this is no solo record, but a true group project that live must be very exciting to hear indeed! The recording technique and sound also used on this record is also very interesting, at times clear and at others heavily treated, all of which (I imagine) is intended.

Highly recommended to all those who love King Crimson, rock, out jazz, Human Feel, downtown scene, pygmies…!

Original Post at FreeJazzBlog

Everything for Somebody at All About Jazz

Alto saxophonist Aram Shelton cannot break his Chicago habit. We’re not talking that monkey woman Joe Williams used to sing about, back in the day. Shelton, who left Chicago a few years back for the Bay area of California, returns to the windy city often, both physically and for its sound.

His second quartet recording, like These Times (Singlespeed Music, 2010) lands smack-dab on the Midwestern map. The saxophonist recruited three Chicagoans—saxophonist Keefe Jackson (Jason Stein Quartet, Josh Berman, Fast Citizens), bassist Anton Hatwich (Rempis Percussion Quartet, Wrack), and go-to drummer Tim Daisy (Ken Vandermark, Dave Rempis, James Falzone)—to collaborate on this project.

The quartet’s sound derive s from a gratifying mix of Shelton’s compositions and the band’s improvised playing. The six tracks heard here neither stray too far from the themes, nor are they contained by stifled by the written notes. The disc opens and closes with two very Ornette Coleman-sounding tracks. Both “Anticipation” and “Fleeting” spin gamboling patterns and joyous sound before opening up for some seemingly pell-mell soloing. Jackson and Shelton trade-off, while Hatwich and Daisy keep the order with a proper groove.

Elsewhere, subtlety rules the hour. Shelton’s compositions ease into quieter moments, as with the title track and the skulking, open-ended “Joints And Tendons,” featuring paired improvisers placidly reaching for a freedom that starts and stops with injections of melody and harmony. “Deadfall” opens with a memorable solo by Shelton, before gaining momentum and a burning intensity. Everything For Somebody begs to be heard in a live setting; this is of the tightest bands of loose improvisers playing today.

By Mark Corroto. Originally published at All About Jazz

Everything for Somebody at Stef’s Free Jazz Blog

As the press release states, this is jazz music inspired by the likes of Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, Mingus and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. I guess that looks like a tall order to fill, but Aram Shelton doesn’t fail you one second on this excellent release. It’s also – for those interested (like me) – the second album from the 4tet on Shelton’s Singlespeedmusic label.

Everything for Somebody is one of those albums like much of the music coming out of the Chicago scene, a mixture of free and composed jazz. Although Shelton isn’t based in Chicago he seems to have put together this group from his earlier residency there. Members Keefe Jackson (tenor sax), Anton Hatwich (bass) and the most recent addition Tim Daisy (drums) .. a name that shouldn’t need any introduction! One could try and get philosophical about this music, but somehow there doesn’t seem to be any need as it’s music that touches the listener right from the opening notes. ‘Anticipation’ which dances away on a simple joyful swinging melody leaves space for the two major soloists of Jackson and Shelton to blow simple melodic improvisations. The dancing melody starts as an easily memorable melody but the two soloists dig deep helping to yield hidden secrets gradually, balancing a fine line between free-bop and more dense melodic improvisation. It’s this ‘fine line’ that carries itself through the record, and for me makes this not only highly listenable, but also a refreshing breath of air.

The opening sounds of ‘Everything for Somebody’ almost takes you back to hearing Ornette for the first time with his famous quartet, although here it’s two saxes. Keefe Jackson blows some powerful free-bop lines that really hang together in the same way the Dewey Redman managed. Aram Shelton seems to play some serious lines on this tune which are a marvel to behold, floating over the swinging bass and drums like a butterfly in the wind. The energy of the the whole group never lets up for one minute, holding your attention throughout. All the tunes on this release are very strong, adventurous in style and thinking, they ultimately carry the musicians to areas where they can find new ideas. ‘Joints and Tendons’ really explores sound textures for all the group, setting up each member in a duo context whilst cleverly weaving in melodic fragments.’Deadfall’ is a mournful cry for the solo alto of Shelton cueing in the group (several minutes into the piece) into a gorgeous arpeggiated melody. The rest of the band grab this and gradually build into a wailing free-for-all before finding their way back to the serenity of the initial melody. ‘Fleeting’, the final track treats us to some fine free flowing ideas from the whole band with solos from all and a wonderful Ornette-esque melody to sandwich the ideas.

Another fine album from Aram Shelton who seems (from what I’ve seen) to be a very interesting voice in the world between improvised music and free jazz. His wonderful Arrive albums (*), electro acoustic experiments, Cylinder and other such projects go to show that Shelton is constantly looking for new avenues of experimentation.

A highly recommended album for those who enjoy the meeting of swing and free jazz. Some tags could be – Ornette Coleman, Atomic, Motif, The Engines, Vandermark 5 … if you see what I mean!

Original post at FreeJazzBlog

New You at Shanley on Music

The members of the Oakland, CA quartet Arts & Sciences all spent time in a conservatory or two. In addition to learning their instruments on campus, nearly all having logged time in the odd pop band tUnE-yArDs. They also all have an affinity for prog-flavord free improv and composition. In particular, they seem to have digested a good bit of Tim Berne’s oeuvre. Admittedly they cite the alto saxophonist’s Bloodcount band in their bio, but the quartet seems closer to Science Friction, his more electric group. It could attributed to Michael Coleman’s electric keyboards which build structures for Jacob Zimmerman (alto) and Matt Nelson (tenor) to develop, or knock down, depending on the situation. Drummer Jordan Glenn completes the band and adds aggresive feeling to the playing, sometimes like Jim Black.

No specific songwriting credits are listed anywhere on the cover, although Coleman’s name appears with “ASCAP” next to it. Zimmerman actually penned one of the 10 tracks but by leaving the specifics off the cover, Arts & Sciences comes across like a unit rather than a band led by one particular player.

New You includes a few instances of conservatory geek humor. Case in point: “Baby Boner,” a title which the band hopefully will come to regret and re-name. This suite-like episode, like opener “People Really Like Me,” also proves that the quartet enjoys abrasive repetition. The latter drifts off with Zimmerman blowing a two-note loop, while one-third of the 10-minute former track gets stuck on an odd-meter lick that only changes in texture and dynamics. Abrasive? Yes. Unlistenable? Not really. Maybe just on the first listen.

Before “Baby Boner” gets to that point, it borrows what I like to call the “scenery changing” solo approach from Berne, where the background changes while a solo happens. The twist comes in who appears to be soloing. In this case, it’s Coleman and Glenn, while the two saxmen work and rework the setting. “Scientology” adds guitar and three extra horns (including Singlespeed head honcho Aram Shelton) but the out of tempo piece sticks a little too closely to its slow theme, with just a brief spot for a keyboard/drum break. Better is “Shunting” which starts out free and furious, shapes into a heavy groove and then breaks down again.

The longer tracks are punctuated by shorter pieces that serve like interludes. In fact, the 31-second “Missed Opportunity” feels like the acoustic piano exposition for “Scram,”‘ which immediately follows and begins with Coleman rapidly spinning a nervy synth cluster. Other times, they hang around long enough to get a choppy melody out there (“Poodle,” another tip of hat to Berne angularity), prove that they can play chamber music relatively straightly (“Step Child”) or go through several prog-y shapes in a less than three minutes, including one that sounds like a tripped out quote from Raymond Scott (“Those Lepers”).

Clearly Arts & Sciences has a variety of backgrounds and influences to draw on with their work. Sometimes when the ideas get thrown together in a somewhat reckless fashion, the results feel a little scattered. In their case, the uninhibited qualities of these guys work to their advantage.

Original post at Shanley on Music.

New You at JazzWrap

The American west coast continues to bubble with urgency, at least on the improvised front, so we turn to Oakland, CA and the dynamic talents of a new quartet, Arts & Sciences. On their second release, New You, released on Aram Shelton’s Singlespeed Music (he also plays on one track), this quartet show that they have a lot of improvisational ideas that can fight with the best of the New York and Chicago scenes.

“Baby Boner” slowly rises with delicately paced improvised notes, then folds into a high octane, pulse-pounding collision of sound. It felt like a segment of Miles Davis’ Agharta. Dueling tenor and alto saxophones cause a cacophony in the middle section which sound beautiful smashed against Coleman’s keys and Glenn’s unyielding kit. The quartet later come down gently in a psychedelic interlude of squeals on the rhodes and tiny percussion tones that give off a Steve Reich ambiance.

The band site Tim Berne is an influence. It can be heard and felt in throughout but that’s just the building blocks. Nelson and Zimmerman take that influence and turn it into their own fun, free floating nihilistic structure. “Scram” illustrates this with a number of challenging expositions and exchanges between the horn section and clashing notes from Coleman and Glenn. The rhythm is easy to pick up but you’ll probably be more entranced by how much fun they’re having with this piece…brilliant!

“Scientology” is wonderful ensemble piece featuring Aram Shelton on clarinet, Rob Ewing (trombone), Theo Padouvas (trumpet) and Andrew Conklin (guitar). It’s almost an improvised balled with echoes of Joe Zawinul sprinkled about. Pleasant yet strikingly bold. It’s an expansive piece that allows the musicians a lot of freedom while maintaining a real clear direction.

Original post at JazzWrap

Incline at Gapplegate

Nordeson Shelton is Aram Shelton on alto sax and Kjell Nordeson on drums. Incline (Singlespeed Music 009) is a set of freely improvised pieces by the duo. They found themselves working together in the San Francisco Bay area around 2005, first in a quartet on the Clean Feed album Cylinder, thereafter as the duo Nordeson Shelton.

Nordeson’s drumming and his kit expand the usual sound parameters with an interesting array of metalic objects, small drums and large, and some trashy sorts of cymbals among the usual ones. He sets up interesting backdrops and counterlines to Aram’s alto which has a creatively dry sound. Aram in turn creates less-standard sorts of lines than the usual free-horn barrages, though he is not above applying some heat at times.

Nordeson Shelton show originality and imagination on this one. It may sway a little towards the new music side of the nm-jazz spectrum but it doesn’t short-change immediacy in the process. A promising beginning. Indispensible? No. Interesting? Yes.

Original post at Gapplegate